Friday, November 16, 2012
IFBB Pro Toni West Interview
When Toni West first stepped on a bodybuilding stage, it was about motivation. At that show she was the only female bodybuilder on the stage that day. She progressed, improved and competed more times and then in 2009 she won her WNBF pro card. Toni then stepped on stage at Nationals recently, in the physique division, a division that will allow her to compete and be successful in the NPC/IFBB. At Nationals, Toni won her class, won the overall and was awarded an IFBB pro card. Not bad for a girl who just wanted some motivation.
Q: Can you talk about how you got started in the gym?
A: I got started in bodybuilding at the age of twenty. I have always been an athlete, always been in competitive organized sports since the age of seven. I was playing soccer in college and had a hamstring pull that I could not overcome. I was doing strength training with coaches and getting rehab done. Instead of being at practice I would be in the conditioning room. Once I got to where I could play again I pulled it again. I felt it was a done deal, that I couldn't play soccer. I stayed on the strength training program with the team and saw changes in my body. I liked what I saw and started reading some magazines and joined a gym that was owned by a bodybuilder. He said "you've got a great natural physique, your body is built for bodybuilding". I didn't even know what bodybuilding was or what competitions were like. I was just happy lifting and being strong. He gave me diet, a basic bodybuilder diet, then my body changed more. I looked more lean and muscular so I stayed with it. When my husband and I decided to have a baby I thought I should do a show. People thought I was a bodybuilder and I never competed, so I didn't consider myself a bodybuilder till I did my first show. I did that in 2003, I was the only entrant, I got the trophy and everything. It was just motivation to get something off my bucket list.
Q: Doing your first show and being the only girl, did you enjoy itor walk away disappointed?
A: It felt a little bit weird. That first show was strict motivation, I didn't care who showed up. For the second show I was curious to know what I looked like compared to other bodybuilders. It was just the point of doing a show, dieting, and everyone was so proud of me. There were figure girls, it wasn't the "Toni Solo Show". It was extra motivation for the next show. But I go to the next show and am compared to other people, it is a whole new ballgame. Now I know what to work on and what judges are looking for.
Q: Female bodybuilders are still not accepted by many in society, when you started adding muscle did any family or friends react negatively?
A: I actually un-build my body. I am usually the smallest I ever am on stage. I don't get to bulky, I am a natural competitor. I don't look that much off. People can't figure me out, they don't know if I do fitness or figure or swim or a gymnast, they know I am more than a regular gym goer but they can't put their finger on it. Once I say I am a competitive bodybuilder, then all of a sudden they think I look big, before they admired my physique, but once I say bodybuilder they think "oh, she's huge, she's on steroids", they think it is something that it's not. So for me the biggest part, is people can tell when I get close to a show. They can see more muscle on me. I have shrunken down in size, but I look more lean and bigger to people but I have lost ten pounds. It is conflicting to people to understand what I look like off-season is just a little more muscular than normal people. I don't look like a typical bodybuilder in the IFBB, but reality is I am the biggest person or female they have seen. At my gym, I am the only bodybuilder they have seen up close so they think I am pretty big.
Q: In 2009 you won your WNBF pro card, what did it mean to you to become a pro bodybuilder?
A: Well, it was kind of a whirl wind. In 2009 I did six shows actually. It started with winning the NPC Natural Lakewood in Lakewood, Ohio. I had been doing bodybuilding for motivation, I wasn't concerned with getting a pro card. It was something I liked to do, I didn't have forward thinking. In 2009 I was told there was a natural bodybuilding show, I did it and won. I figured I should do Team Universe, maybe take natural bodybuilding to the next level. I was invited to compete with the INBF, I did two shows and won my pro card. One I was invited to and the second was close to where my parents lived so they got to see me compete, it was the only reason I did the show. It happened to be a pro qualifier, so I kind of by accident and my own motivation, turned pro. It was great, and I was ready for the next level but didn't understand yet what I wanted in the industry or for myself as a bodybuilder. 2009 was a big year, I did six shows and it was exhausting. After that I needed to focus on what I wanted to do. Being involved in the industry is important, I don't have to compete every six weeks to do that.
Q: After doing some shows in 2010 you took some time off, was there a reason for that?
A: In 2010 I did two in the spring and one in the fall and then my sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. My life and the realness of why I am on this earth, it became evident that there was more to life than doing a show. It takes a lot of energy and focus and prep to do a show, with the added stress of a sibling having a serious health issue, it was more than I cared to deal with. In 2011 I had committed to a show in November and worked towards that. It was a good show, I did improve upon my last year, but the focus wasn't there. My sister and I did a stem cell transplant and I had health issues on my own. It was down time but I was always in the gym. But the stress and focus level was too much to deal with.
Q: For this year you obviously switched to physique, my guess is because you felt it was perfect for your size to compete in the NPC?
A: Yeah, when it came out, when the first inkling of physique came out, I was asked to do it. The timing was bad with everything my sister was going through. I was told "you can go to Nationals, just pay for your NPC card and you can step on a National stage", because we did not have a regional pre-qualification requirement the first year. People were turning pro just doing one show. That would have been ideal, but I did not have that focus time. I kept looking into it, then they started pro shows and it was a crap shoot of who was winning. At the pro level they let bodybuilders and figure girls come in, you just had to be a pro. Not only did they have a handful of girls who had won a National show the year before, but they had a mix of bodybuilders and figure girls thinking they were muscular. This past year, what has won shows has been all over the place. I watched it, and I never really fit into any mold, but didn't know if I would be too muscled and would have to give up everything I had worked hard for with my natural federation. I weighed a lot of options and after reading about it, online on NPC News Online, and they say "the following should not be a description of physique, it should not be, ripped, shredded, peeled, dieted, dried, hard, vascular, massive, think etc.". Those are all the things am told I am not for bodybuilding. So maybe I was a perfect fit, but couldn't see what it was looking like from the pro stage. I entered and won. So I am not the only one who thinks I split the difference and will be successful in physique.
Q: For physique, did you do anything different with prep?
A: No, I didn't do a single thing different. Year after year I look to improve upon my last showing and last prep. Last year I only had eleven weeks prep and a lot of influences that kept me from focusing. I was happy with how I looked and had improved. So at sixteen weeks from November 10th I started a prep for some show. I was not sure what show or federation, but knew I was doing a show. I did the exact same diet, only difference was the length of time, which translated to an extra five pounds off. I needed that for natural bodybuilding or NPC bodybuilding or physique. I never switch my training, it is always heavy and up to the show and I eat, which people think is crazy. My contest diet is two-thousand calories, which some people think it's celery and water and ice cubes. I eat food, very clean, very consistent, and my training is consistent. It only gets better with the length of diet.
Q: To me, you continued your trend of being the best conditioned girl on stage, do you agree and is it something you work for?
A: I appreciate that. Was I the best conditioned? I don't know. I was the best conditioned I have ever been, that is for sure. At three weeks out I looked so much better than last year. I was excited I had made the improvements. Even backstage you don't know what people look like and it is hard to judge. You never know till they flex. I look totally different when I flex. A photographer said I have camouflaged muscle. I don't look as muscular till I flex. Conditioning is something that every time I come off with that as a critique, but who doesn't? You can tell Jay Cutler "your conditioning could be better or has been better". That is why people do bodybuilding, to make improvements. If you are great all the time, maybe you are Iris Kyle and unbeatable, but she has even had times where she doesn't look the best she has ever looked. My conditioning was spot on and my muscle size for Class C was really good. There were girls who were more muscular and some less muscular with good shape.
Q: What went through your head when you won the overall?
A: Nothing haha. When I won my class, the top two got pro cards. So when they called places I was like "please don't call me third". When they didn't call me third, my heart leapt to my throat and I knew I won my pro card. When they called me overall, it happened so fast, I couldn't believe it. I was in a total daze. Even backstage I was like "did that happen? It happened so fast". The moment passes you by. I was out of my mind happy.
Q: Did it sink in yet?
A: No! I talk to people at the gym, you get away from people who know how important a pro card is, they don't understand. They ask if you won money or prizes. No, I got a trophy. I have people who think I am on another level and say "call Kai Greene and see if he can come to the gym" haha. Just cause I have a pro card doesn't mean Kai Greene's cell phone number is in my phone haha. I haven't seen a schedule for next year. I don't mean to offend anyone but I don't feel like a pro till I compete on a pro stage. That is when I feel validated as a pro. Right now, I have a National Championship, I have a title and need to use it.
Q: Do you know when you want to compete next?
A: Well, two days after the show I got an email that they added physique to the Olympia. It is a goal, to qualify. Till I see the list of pro shows, I have a life, a family, thimgs I don't want to miss. I need fifteen to sixteen weeks to prep for a show. I am not in a hurry but don't want to do the last show before the Olympia to try and qualify, I want to try and get a spring or summer show in at minimum and see from there.
Q: Were do you want to improve for the next one?
A: There is always things. I feel my posing is always something I can work on. People tend to neglect it and I fall into that category somewhat. Not practicing or remembering how long to hold poses. Everything starts to hurt when you flex a long time on stage. I had a tricep cramp after a minute. Conditioning for posing is a key aspect, I don't like to cramp. I was happy with my physique so it is figuring how to get there again.
Q: When someone accuses you of not being natural are you insulted or take it as a compliment?
A: It depends. I am trying to not label myself as a natural because I don't want to bring a negative light to people who are not natural. I am proud I have built my body and am natural but I don't discredit anyone who is not. I take a whey protein isolate, my supplement list is short. I don't have a list of borderline things. I take it as a compliment because they don't understand that it can be done naturally. They think I am big because I use enhancements. At the same time, the minute I say I am natural they say I am not and discredit my work ethic. It is disheartening. I can't pee in a cup for everyone. It is a losing battle. I am not gonna be drug tested in this division so it doesn't even matter. It has taken me a long time and I will always be natural.
Q: Anyone you want to thank?
A: My husband and family for their support, I couldn't do it without them. I am told by my mom that I need to thank her for the genetics. My suit sponsor Terry Benedetto of Fabulous Fitwear, my sponsor About Time Protein, they are so supportive and have great tasting protein. A bunch of local supporters, Alexander of Athletic Club, L.A. Fitness and my local GNC. It takes a village to raise a bodybuilder.